It’s déjà vu all over again. Just like the Avengers sequel, the hotly anticipated Pitch Perfect 2 is the follow-up to an awesome 2012 movie that had me expecting another dose of energizing fun. And just like Joss Whedon’s movie, it sent me out not exactly unsatisfied but noticing some slippage from the first film, though I remain hopeful for the future.
Here, Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick) and her fellow Barden Bellas are seniors and reigning three-time national a cappella singing champions until a performance at Kennedy Center when a mishap causes Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) to accidentally flash the entire audience, including the president of the United States. (Cut to shot of Barack and Michelle looking grim.) Disgraced, their only shot at reinstatement at Barden University is to win the quadrennial a cappella world championships in Copenhagen. Pulling that off means unseating the defending world champ, a German group calling themselves Das Sound Machine.
I wish one of the girls had pointed out the essential ridiculousness of the penalty and Fat Amy being forced to deliver an apology for an accident. You know that in real life, one of those girls would have said something. And yes, I know I’m talking about the second straight movie where none of these college students ever goes to class. Still, it feels like a satirical opportunity missed.
The major plotlines involve Chloe (Brittany Snow) being afraid to graduate, Fat Amy falling for her longtime hookup Bumper (Adam Devine), Beca taking an internship at a record label and hiding it from the others because she’s afraid they’ll freak out, and Beca leading the Bellas astray because she’s so intimidated by Das Sound Machine’s performance of “Uprising” and “Tsunami.” None of them goes anywhere interesting; looks like screenwriter Kay Cannon is better at firing off snarky lines of dialogue than thinking of plot or character development. Beca’s boyfriend (Skylar Astin) barely registers here, too.
Still playing the snarky commentator (and now singing the Universal Studios theme music with co-star John Michael Higgins), Elizabeth Banks steps into the director’s chair, and she does a fair job with the material considering that this is her first full-fledged directing job — her only previous experience was directing the only watchable segment of Movie 43. She’s a bit too fond of montages like the one where the girls put themselves through a boot camp. Still, she knows the vibe from the first movie and duplicates it.
On the other hand, we do get Keegan-Michael Key (otherwise known as Obama’s anger translator) as Beca’s autocratic boss and Fat Amy reconciling with Bumper by rowing across a lake while singing Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.” (“I underestimated the size of this lake,” she puffs as she runs out of breath to sing.) Wilson continues to steal the best comic lines, while Kendrick seems much more comfortable as the less jaded, more authoritative version of Beca who shows up here. She’s best in a funny running gag finds Beca is unnerved to find herself sexually attracted to Das Sound Machine’s lead singer (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) and futilely tries to respond to the German’s trash talk in kind: “Your sweat smells like cinnamon!” Just like Avengers: Age of Ultron, this sequel lays groundwork for a third movie by casting Hailee Steinfeld as a freshman legacy Bella who joins up, and she looks to be a capable future leader.
Enough on that. You want to know how the music goes down. Well, Kendrick sings a duet with Snoop Dogg (playing himself) while he’s recording a Christmas album, with her taking “Here Comes Santa Claus” over his “Winter Wonderland” and making the two songs fit together. That’s a genuinely happy surprise. The Bellas’ slow reprise of “Cups” made me remember the way these girls’ voices shimmer in the quiet numbers. The riff-off in the middle features country love songs, songs about butts, songs by women who dated John Mayer, and ‘90s hip-hop, and it features various members of the Green Bay Packers (led by Clay Matthews) singing “Bootylicious.” They’re not half bad, either. I was less enamored of the Bellas’ finale performance of Jessie J’s “Flashlight,” which struck me as an overly sentimental way to send the senior Bellas off. But just as this movie brings back Bellas from the past, we know we’ll be seeing these girls again, and I won’t be sorry to.